Car Maintenance for Beginners

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girl hunched over next to a motorcycle, looking concerned with tools in her hand.

If you’re new to car maintenance, you’re not alone! While it may seem easier to just bring your car into the shop whenever you hear a funny noise or notice a maintenance light is on, it’s actually quite simple to diagnose some basic issues on your own.

Even simpler? Taking preventative steps to keep your vehicle in working shape over the years — they will save you money AND time. You don’t have to become a mechanic yourself, but here are some easy ways to start caring for your car.

Become Acquainted with the Manual

Nobody is expected to read an entire vehicle manual from front to back, but it shouldn’t be thrown in a glove compartment to never be seen again. When you get a car, take a look through. One section to look at is your warning lights. When these come on, they should never be ignored and it’s helpful to know what exactly they mean.

You can also take a peek at what all the knobs do on your center console (it’s not always obvious!), your ideal tire pressure, and how to check your fluids.

Keep Your Vehicle Clean

Having a clean car doesn’t just improve the aesthetics of your vehicle — it can also improve the longevity. The outside of your car comes in contact with bugs, smoke, dirt, etc., and this all wears on the paint. Experts recommend that you get a basic outside wash every two weeks and a wax every six months. You may want to wash it more in the winter if you live in a colder area, as salt on the roads can be one of the most damaging environmental factors.

The inside of your car likely does not have to be cleaned as often, but you should look for special care instructions if you have leather seats or other higher-maintenance materials.

Practice Basic Tire Care

If you’re ignoring your tires, your ignoring one of the most important parts of your vehicle. They control how your car handles every turn, bump, and dip in the road, and deserve a lot of attention. First, be sure that you get your tires rotated every 5000-7000 miles. Since so many cars now have front-wheel drive, front tires wear more quickly than those in the back.

You should also keep an eye on your tire pressure. It’s good practice to check them when you go to get gas. They will naturally lose pressure over time, and since you know their ideal pressure from looking in the manual, you can easily fill them to their ideal PSI at a simple air station. It will only take a couple minutes, and there are plenty of quick videos that will teach you how to do it.

Purchase an Extended Warranty Plan

Do you know how long your current warranty lasts? Do you know exactly what it covers? A great warranty can be your best friend when it comes to vehicle maintenance, but often what comes with your vehicle is not enough. And if you have a used vehicle, it’s likely that you don’t have a warranty at all. When your car does need service, you don’t want to find yourself in trouble. Consider purchasing an extended warranty plan or car service contract for your used car. While it may seem like an upfront expense that isn’t necessary, you’ll be thanking yourself when you do need service.

Find a Trustworthy Mechanic

While you can do a lot of preventative and basic maintenance for your vehicle, accidents and wear and tear happen. In these cases, nothing replaces a trustworthy mechanic. Do your research using Yelp and Google to find a mechanic nearby that has positive reviews. Go to them for simple maintenance so you can judge their prices and honesty on a small scale. When the time comes for more expensive maintenance, you’ll have a location, and hopefully a specific mechanic, that you can rely on to be reasonable and reliable.

Car maintenance doesn’t have to feel like a struggle — in reality, there are many simple aspects to caring for your vehicle that you can easily add to your routine. Maybe you’ll even learn a few new skills in the process! Overall, focus on preventative care that keeps your vehicle in tip-top shape. While you can’t prevent everything, it will make the trips to the mechanic few and far between, and you’ll feel more confident during those visits. 

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